Nationals travel to Pittsburgh in battle of last-place clubs

MLB

In a matchup of teams playing for pride and the future, the Washington Nationals open a three-game set Friday against the Pirates in Pittsburgh.

The Pirates do have one thing the Nationals don’t: a shot at finishing last in the major leagues and clinching the top draft spot next year.

Pittsburgh (50-90) is still seeking its first sweep of an opponent and remains the only big league club that has not won a series by sweep.

The Pirates came close this week when they won the first two games of a home series against Detroit before dropping the series finale.

Now Pittsburgh faces a team that, like Detroit, is another struggling team in the Nationals (58-82).

There was a sweep when the teams met at Washington in mid-June: The Nationals beat the Pirates in all three games by a combined 14-4.

“I don’t put a whole lot of stock into it, and it’s not really something that consumes much of my thoughts,” Pittsburgh catcher Jacob Stallings said of not being able to complete a sweep. “It just hasn’t worked out. I think more of what is frustrating is just our overall win-loss record. I think when you have a bad record, it’s hard to sweep teams. It doesn’t really bother me that much.”

The Pirates are 2-7 in their past nine games, 8-11 in their past 19.

The Nationals are 3-6 in September, 4-12 in their past 16 games.

Washington is at something of a disadvantage as it played Thursday, a 7-6 loss in Atlanta in 10 innings, while the Pirates, who are on their longest homestand, had a day off.

One bright spot for Washington has been former Pirates first baseman Josh Bell, who has at least one hit in 15 of his past 17 games, going 20-for-65 (.308) with four doubles, five homers, 13 RBIs and seven runs scored.

“Honestly — I’ve said this many times — he’s been unbelievable,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “Offensively, he’s been great.”

In the series opener, left-hander Steven Brault (0-3, 5.61 ERA) is scheduled to start, while Washington has not named a starter.

Brault missed most of the season because of a lat strain and will be making his seventh start, but things seem to be going in the wrong direction.

He has given up 12 runs in seven innings over his past two starts after allowing four runs in 18 2/3 innings over his first four outings.

In his most recent outing, Friday, he did not get a decision against the Chicago Cubs as he was tagged with five runs and seven hits in four innings.

“It just seemed like I was falling onto my backside a little bit too much, so (it’s a matter of) keeping that back leg strong, which is a problem I’ve run into before, and I probably will run into again,” Brault offered as a self-diagnosis.

“It’s just kind of one of those things that I just need to consistently keep up with and work on.”

Against Washington, Brault is 0-1 with a 7.84 ERA in four career appearances, two of them starts.

–Field Level Media

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